The SpringHill Company and CNN Films will produce “Dreamland: The Rise and Fall of Black Wall Street,” a documentary examining the violent events of late May and June 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., that led to a slaughter of hundreds of the city’s African American residents. The massacre took place in a prosperous community of Tulsa bankers, lawyers, and business owners, many of whom were the descendants of slaves.
CNN Films previously backed hit movies like “RBG,” a look at the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; “Three Identical Strangers,” the story of triplets who were separated at birth; and “Apollo 11,” a documentary about the team of astronauts who first walked on the moon. SpringHill is the entertainment media business founded by basketball great LeBron James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter. In September, the company entered into a first-look deal with Universal Pictures.
“Dreamland: The Rise and Fall of Black Wall Street” is currently in production. It is directed and produced by Salima Koroma (“Bad Rap”), and executive produced by James and Carter, as well as by Jamal Henderson and Philip Byron of SpringHill, and Amy Entelis and Courtney Sexton of CNN Films. Jamila Jordan-Theus and Patrick Altema of SpringHill are co-executive producers for the film.
CNN Films will be the linear television distributor throughout North America, and HBO Max has nabbed streaming rights to the film. The streamer, which shares a corporate parent in WarnerMedia with CNN Films, has teamed with the documentary maker on several projects including “On the Trail,” the story of the journalists who embed with presidential campaigns, and “Heaven’s Gate,” a look at a cult movement that ended in mass suicide.
The tragic events documented in “Dreamland: The Rise and Fall of Black Walls Street” unfolded after a 17-year-old white woman accused a 19-year-old African American man of inappropriate behavior in an elevator. When a white mob attempted to lynch the accused, they were rebuked by African American World War I veterans. The backlash resulted in the destruction of 35 city blocks and hundreds of murdered African Americans.
“At SpringHill, we embody empowerment and focus on shining a light on stories that are the fabric of American history,” said Jamal Henderson, SpringHill’s chief content officer. “We cannot move forward until we acknowledge our past and this is about honoring a prosperous, booming Black community, one of many, that was brought to an end because of hate. With the lack of historic journalism around ‘Black Wall Street’ and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, we are honored to be partnered with CNN, which has a long-standing record of credible and groundbreaking journalism. We are bringing this documentary together with a diverse crew, including local Tulsans, and making it our mission to uplift voices and people while creating impactful content.”
The feature film will include a mix of archival media, contemporary interviews and narrated elements such as letters and diary entries. It will also include footage of the century-long search for physical evidence of the mass murder that some had tried to erase from the historic record. The partners expect the film to be completed in early 2021.
“CNN Films could not be more proud to partner with The SpringHill Company for this long-overdue recognition of the tragedy of what happened in Greenwood, and to contribute to the reconciliation that comes with the acknowledgement of history,” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide. “Salima Koroma’s vision will yield a truly thoughtful film.”
The deal was negotiated by Josh Tarnow, vice president for business and legal affairs at SpringHill, and Stacey Wolf, senior vice president of business affairs, and Kelly MacLanahan, assistant general counsel, both of CNN Worldwide, on behalf of CNN Films.
Pictured: Chief Egunwale Amunsan, president, Tulsa African Ancestral Society